Three NJ striped bass hearings are in the books, Roselle Park (8 attendees), Ocean City (52) and Manahawkin (84). Single hearings were also held in Delaware (13) and Pennsylvania (10), with two in New York (150), but the three New Jersey hearings scheduled to accommodate a diverse and heavily populated region were the most of any Atlantic state.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC) proposals for 2020 are fairly cut and dry – there’s status quo which would leave things as is; a second option would equalize harvest cuts by 18% among both commercial and recreational sectors; a third choice puts 20% of the cut on recreationals based on data showing anglers harvest more bass than draggers (that data being the MRIP/MRFSS surveys, regular editorial fodder on this particular page of The Fisherman).
Under each main option are a set of sub-options for recreational measures in our region; assuming ASFMC chooses fair and equal cuts under main option 2, the corresponding sub-options for the ocean fishery include 2-A1 (one fish at 35 inches, an 18% reduction), option 2-A2 (one fish from 28 to 35 inches, a 19% reduction), option 2-A3 (one fish from 30 to 38 inches, an 18% reduction) and option 2-A4 (one fish from 32 to 40 inches, a 21% reduction). I attended two of the three New Jersey hearings and heard 31 different speakers go on record. Option 2 was the obvious preference, with a fairly even favorability split between sub-options 2-A1 (35”) and 2-A2 (28”-35”), with 2-A4 (32”-40”) a distant third.
Those who spoke on record in Ocean City and Manahawkin were mostly in favor of an option to require use of circle hooks when fishing with bait, though some preferred such a gear restriction be “promoted” rather than “required”. Other opinions shared on record related to commercial striper quota in New Jersey being used for the Striped Bass Bonus Program (some in favor, some opposed), the use of conservation equivalency for state-by-state management (which is how New Jersey keeps an 18-inch fluke while New York has 19), the need for increased enforcement, potential restrictions on charter captains using their bag limit for customers, and spawning area restrictions in the Hudson/Raritan complex. One strictly “catch and release” guide in Ocean City even suggested that anglers who wish to fish for stripers take a course in fish-handling.
It should be noted that the mortality rate associated with catch and release striper fishing has been an especially troubling aspect of the debate. According to ASMFC data, the commercial harvest of striped bass in 2017 made up roughly 10% of coastwide landings, with recreational fishermen taking the other 90%. Of that recreational take, 42% of the landings come from anglers harvesting a striper for the table, the other 48% from fish that die after being caught and released (hence the circle hook option). ASMFC is specifically looking to curtail the downward trend in female spawning stock biomass, and while there’s a big push in our community to release the breeders, it wasn’t lost on many attendees that the entire suite of ASFMC options are based on directed harvest of breeding-size stripers. Conversely, the larger the striper that’s released, the higher the rate of mortality after release.
You know what opinions are like; when it comes to the options presented, I’d certainly be one of them if I chose to share mine. However, you personally have until October 7 to share yours directly with the ASFMC. Public comment on Draft Addendum VI will be accepted until 5 p.m. on October 7, and should be sent to Max Appelman, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201. You can also email (Subject line: Striped Bass Draft Addendum VI) to email@example.com.
ASMFC will convene again from October 27-31 in New Hampshire to review public comment and consider final options for 2020. Details at www.asmfc.org.